Hark! What is this I see? A torch, a beacon of light at the end of the long dark tunnel lined with shattered dreams and expectations! Torchlight II is here and I can feel the warmth emanating from it, and boy does it feel good.
After a series of release date delays, Torchlight II is finally here to warm our hearts. The loving warmth of DRM-free peer-to-peer online co-op, LAN play, and offline single player options. Runic is bringing the heat to back its fiery sequel.
The first and most important addition to the Torchlight franchise is the multiplayer offering. The original Torchlight received unanimous praise as a great game that could stand on its own legs in the face of Diablo. Its only real flaw was a complete lack of a multiplayer option. We wanted to delve into those sweet random dungeons, looting and exploring with friends in tow. Fortunately, Runic heard our cries and has delivered unto us a beautiful peer-to-peer online component. Just create an account with Runic, register your copy of the game and you're good to go. Runic's list merely acts as a matchmaker service; the games are hosted by the players, so instability within Runic will not completely destroy your experience (I'm looking at you Blizzard).
Many features from the original Torchlight make a comeback: fishing, random dungeon portal scrolls, and loyal pets. The companion system has been expanded to include many more offerings than the original dog and cat options. Now you can choose from creatures such as eagles, ferrets, panthers, and many more. TL2, like the original, is designed with the modding community in mind, so I expect to see an even wider array of unique pets in the near future.
This brings me to the next topic, modding. The original Torchlight was designed specifically with the modding community in mind and Torchlight II holds true to the ideas of its predecessor. When asked about possible post release DLC, Runic responded it was unlikely as it was unprofitable to release DLC content which could be easily modded in for free. Development tools for TL2 will be released soon, so Torchlight players can scratch their modding itch very soon.
The first thing I noticed after creating my Embermage was the game's pacing. Your character runs much quicker than in the original, and the fights are fast and furious. This leads to much more intense combat, requiring quick thinking and fast reflexes to succeed. Skills are level locked, but each class has 3 trees from which to choose. Skills and abilities are further broken down into a newly implemented "Tier" system. Players from Diablo and other action RPGs will likely know that it is popular practice to take only one rank of a certain skill, and save your skill points for later levels where those skill points will see more bang for their buck. Torchlight II takes a new approach by offering the player hefty bonuses for investing more skill points into a single skill. The more you level up a skill, the higher tier the spell becomes. Once enough points are invested, the skill essentially levels up into a new tier and grants the player a sizeable bonus for his investment. As an example, I invested 5 points into the basic frost bolt spell for my Embermage. Once he hit a new tier in the spell, the monsters affected by the spell received a debuff reducing all damage they dealt to me by 20%, A very sizeable number by all accounts. This adds a very interesting dynamic to the game's combat system, and allows the player to develop their characters in unique and interesting ways. The three branches for each class vary in damage type and theme. The berserker for example has a wild path, in which he learns skills that are thematically based on wolves. His other trees vary from bloodlust, to seeing the enemy driven before him and hearing the lamentations of their wom...I digress.
Let us not forget the music. Matt Uelmen (World of Warcraft, Diablo, Diablo II, Starcraft) has created a bevy wonderful music to complement the games many environments and situations. The player never feels the urge to alt-tab and open up VLC media player to turn on some music of their own. It engages, builds suspense, surprises, and inspires the player throughout their gaming session. It promotes a deep immersion, rare in titles of late.
What truly makes this game great though is the polish. Everything looks, runs, sounds, and feels finished. There are no corners cut in any department. The small amount of voice acting present in the game is wonderfully done, conveying great emotional depth, but not taking itself too seriously at the same time. The music is thematic and brilliant at times, building emotions within the player and complementing the story and game play perfectly. The combat is fluid and has a sense of impact which gives the player a great sense of satisfaction after defeating a particularly difficult boss or enemy. The pacing is fast, but not rushed. The player can take the time to explore the lush and vivid environments without feeling they are wasting time, or being rushed to the next area by some quest or timed event. Randomized content gives the game a great amount of re-playability and the game's multiplayer component makes the whole experience come full circle by being able to share the experiences with close friends.